Twelfth Night, free
Adam Coughlin firstname.lastname@example.org.
At first glance William Shakespeare and The Jersey Shore don’t seem to have a lot in common. One epitomizes all that is sacred about the written word while the other tries to validate fist-pumping, juiced-out gorillas. Yet, in their own way, both were the popular form of entertainment during the times they were performed.
Demi Papadinis of the New England Shakespeare Festival, a group of performers that travels around staging Shakespeare plays, believes the complexity attributed to Shakespeare in English classes is just plain wrong.
“When teachers say that after careful study and analysis you might be able to decipher and appreciate the meaning of Shakespeare’s work, I cringe,” Papadinis said. “His plays were popular entertainment, which means the audience needed to connect immediately. They weren’t written for art. They were a commercial venture.”
Papadinis noted that of Shakespeare’s 39 or so plays only half have endured and if Henry IV Part 1 and Timon of Athens were all we judged the great Bard on, his reputation would not have remained so impeccable. She likened Shakespeare’s plays to modern movies, which succeed only if they are popular. She said films like Citizen Cane and Casablanca are re-watched constantly and were not made to be works of art but to entertain and to be the best movie they could be.
New England Shakespeare (the company is dropping the word “Festival” to avoid confusion; when they began in 1994 they believed they would set up shop in one place and perform a festival, but that did not happen) members channel their inner Shakespeare and perform just as actors would have done during Shakespeare’s time. That means they do not use a set, they do not turn the lights up and down, they perform outside, and they preserve Elizabethan staging — the actors do not rehearse and in fact only get a “cue script,” which shows them their lines and a few cues. Because Kinkos was not a thriving business in Shakespeare’s time, no one printed 30 copies of the script. Especially since there weren’t copyright laws and an actor was likely to steal the script and bring it to a rival theater company.
“We want to put on the best show,” Papadinis said. “Staging it the way Shakespeare did makes it better.”
During Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616) public theater companies ran a different show every night and actors were left on their own. The only parts that were rehearsed were the fights, dances and songs on the morning of the show. This requires some great acting. Most of the actors, both men and women, in New England Shakespeare come from New York City. The organization began in New Hampshire but was not hired to perform any shows this summer in the Granite State. In fact, their recent years seem to represent the ebb and flow of the American economy.
Papadinis, who recently published her first book, The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet: A Frankly Annotated First Folio Edition, said they had a banner year in 2008 when they were performing five or six shows a week for several weeks. But then the economy soured and they had to completely cancel their 2009 season. They’re back this year but with only three performances, one in Maine, one in Connecticut, and a free production of Twelfth Night on Sunday, Aug. 29, at 4 p.m. at Boarding House Park on French Street in Lowell, Mass.
“When budgets come in and towns are cutting teachers and firefighters, Shakespeare performances are not high on their list,” Papadinis chuckled.
Yet, even in the face of adversity, William’s plays and New England Shakespeare survived another season.